This spring, I paddled Duck Hole, a wilderness pond surrounded by high mountains. Getting there was not easy—the trip entailed four carries totaling about two miles—but it was worth it. I wrote about my adventure for the July/August issue of the Explorer in an article titled “Portage to Paradise.”
Today that trip is no longer possible. And Duck Hole is no longer a paradise—unless you’re a mosquito.
Yesterday I returned to Duck Hole on foot to see firsthand what’s left of this beloved pond since its dam breached during Tropical Storm Irene.
The accompanying photos tell the story: Duck Hole is mostly muck, dotted with slime-covered stumps from the days before the dam. The streams that fed the pond continue to flow through the muddy plain. As far as I know, these are the first photos taken at Duck Hole since the dam’s breach. The state took aerial photos on Monday.
The two lean-tos at Duck Hole have long been favorite destinations of hikers on the Northville-Placid Trail. Both were undamaged by the storm, but their views are much impaired.
From the lean-to on the west shore, near the dam, hikers looked across the water toward an evergreen-studded island and, on the far side of the pond, a foaming waterfall, the outlet of Lower Preston Pond dropping to Duck Hole.
The island and the waterfall are still there, but instead of a pond, hikers will see a stream winding through mud.
In time, the view should improve as wetland plants colonize the banks of the stream. Tom Kalinowski wrote a nice piece for Adirondack Almanack discussing how nature will alter the Duck Hole landscape.
Of course, this assumes that the state will not reconstruct the dam. Coincidentally, the current issue of the Adirondack Explorer contains a debate on whether the Duck Hole dam—which had been deteriorating for years—should be repaired. Although the dam has been breached, the basic questions are the same. Should Duck Hole be preserved for the aesthetic pleasure of hikers and paddlers? Does a dam belong in a Wilderness Area? Can the state afford to fix it?
Neil Woodworth, the executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, believes most hikers would like to see the dam rebuilt. The state Department of Environmental Conservation hasn’t decided what to do and probably won’t until Irene is well behind us.
The floodwaters of Irene gouged out on the right bank next to the dam. The timber crib dam was built in the 1930s to float logs down the Cold River. While walking along the exposed mud shoreline of Duck Hole, I saw pick axes, a log boom, and other artifacts that had been underwater for years.
Incidentally, I reached Duck Hole by hiking seven miles from the Upper Works trailhead. The road to the trailhead is open, but DEC had posted signs indicating that all trails were closed. Nevertheless, I have been assured by DEC spokesman David Winchell that the public is allowed to hike to Duck Hole from Upper Works.
DEC has closed trails in the eastern High Peaks Wilderness, but Duck Hole is in the western High Peaks. DEC also has closed trails in the Giant Mountain Wilderness and Dix Mountain Wilderness.
I encountered some blowdown on my hike, but I was able to walk around or step over it with little difficulty. That seems to be par for the course in most of the Adirondacks. Winchell said the central and western Adirondacks received little damage from Irene. Even the McKenzie Pond Wilderness, located near Lake Placid, is OK for hiking, he said.
DEC is regularly updating trail conditions on its website. Click here to read the updates.
Tom Murphy says
I realize change can be for the worse but, in this case, won’t a bog form here and/or the forest reclaim this low land.
Wetlands are pretty nice too.
What a shame….glad I was there in july. Hope the state rebuilds the dam!
Tom there not as nice as Duck Hole full of water!
I wonder how the lean-to,s are downstream…..olouska pass,seward,cold river #4 ? I hope they didn,t get wiped out!
Keith Eveleth says
One my favorite places to hike into and get away from the world, mother nature made it and she will fix it.
Was hoping to paddle Duck Hole but waited too long to do it.
Ben K. says
Thanks for the report and photos! My wife and I just visited Duck Hole–it was her first backpacking trip.
In what condition were the various bridges? Had any been washed away or severely damaged?
Phil Brown says
Ben, I neglected to mention that all the bridges were intact.
Al Worthington says
From Duck Hole to Muck Hole in a day. Thank you mother nature. Never understood the maudlin view of Duck Hole. Hike in from upper works was unremarkable and the lean-to location and views so so. (IMHO) The dam was and artifact no longer appropriate for a wilderness area. The meadow that follows will return the land to its natural state, as it should be.
Mark, Saranac Lake says
I’ve only been to Duck Hole once, it was a couple years ago. Paddled and carried into it with a couple friends in our canoes. I am so glad I had a chance to paddle it – one of the more remarkable paddling experiences I’ve had, paddling right in the middle of the High Peaks.
Mike Gebhard says
I never made the trip to Duck Hole on my NPT adventure in 1997. I havent had the opportunity to return to that area…however, Ive been an avid Adk Hiker/Climber for most of my adult life. Nature always has a way reclaiming what is hers…and in this case, I think it should be left as is. The DEC (and NYS) have enough financial woes to be spending money (and it wont come cheap) on rebuilding a dam to provide a nice view for those seldom visitors to the pond. We cant even improve some well used trails due to lack of fund (ie. the trail into Bradley Pond in the Santanonis). Incidently many years when I inquired about this I was told “the trail isnt used enough to warrent being fixed”. So…there ya have it. Its a sad loss…but life goes on. Id say the same for Marcy Dam when its demise comes…which I guess came close too.
It looks a lot like what you see after beavers have finished with a large area (except you don’t have as many trees cut down around the edges).
It may not be a “paddlers paradise” anymore but it will be a very beautiful meadow next spring. This is a pretty unique opportunity to see forest succession first hand in a spot in the higher elevations.
I hope that the lifting of DEC regs for the cleanup allows folks to use chainsaws and other motorized equipment to get things fixed up quickly.
John from Coreys says
When I think of Duck Hole, I am always reminded of my first encounter some thirty year ago. Having arrived at the leanto by the dam in pouring rain the night before, I awoke early to the sound of classical flute music. The flautist in the next leanto was seranading patches of fog as they danced over the water in the early morning sun. It was an idylic scene and brought on such a peaceful mood.
Seeing your pictures brings feelings of great loss. It’s like losing an old friend. But I also look forward to the rebirth of a new wilderness meadow. Life will go on.
My friend and I made the portage from Henderson Lake to Duck Hole 8/19-8/21. Swam below the dam, and stayed in the Lean to on the NPT. We were joking as we swam under the dam about how much longer it would be there, never would of guessed a week later it would be gone. I would have to think that we were one of the last people to ever paddle on that gem.
I will miss this beautiful place.